Experience: Marine Ecologist, Fishery Scientist, Diver
Regions: Otago, Marlborough Sound, Catlins, Fiordland, Foveaux Strait, Stewart Island
Interview Location: Dunedin, NZ
Interview Date: 29 January 2016
Post Date: 16 Sep 2017; Copyright © 2017 Bob Street and Steve Crawford
5. WHITE POINTER ENCOUNTERS - EXPERIENCES OF OTHERS
CRAWFORD: Did you ever hear from anyone that had first-hand experience with White Pointers in Otago Harbour?
STREET: In Otago Harbour at Carey’s Bay is the fishing wharf area of Otago Harbour. This would be going back again about 30-odd years ago. There was a fisherman there who had a setnet down off the wharf for Moki. Honestly, he had a 16-foot White Pointer caught up in that, all wrapped up. I’m not saying that shark would have been following the boats in there, but it was caught there. Incidentally, as far as Otago Harbour is concerned, in 1968, this was the first shark fatality when these spearfisherman were fishing at the Mole, at the entrance to Otago Harbour. And Graham Hitt, he was killed by a Great White there. I knew really well the three people who were fishing with him, and they brought him in.
CRAWFORD: What do you recall of what they told you had happened?
STREET: They all saw the shark, and it attacked Graham.
CRAWFORD: Did it circle first, or was there any indication that the animal was interested ...
STREET: No, I can’t say on that one. Within the space of two or three years there were another two fatalities around St. Kilda beach.
CRAWFORD: Just before we leave the Aramoana incident - there was a group of spearfishermen who were spear fishing at the time? And of the three that were not hit, you don’t recall if there was any other type of interest - or whether it was kind of a straight-off attack with no warning or anything. But did they say anything else about the conditions, or the behaviour or anything else about the shark?
STREET: Nothing that I recall. One of those fishermen, he was only 18 at the time, he worked for me as my technician. We did extensive diving all over the place. He was always a very nervous diver, particularly when we were decompressing on our shot lines, and understandably so.
CRAWFORD: Do you recall, did he say if the party had fish on lines or floats at the time?
STREET: They would have had fish with them. They would have had nets that they would have put the speared fish in.
CRAWFORD: Back in the day, did spearfishermen use floats? And then have a line that tows the float?
STREET: Yes, exactly. That was standard practice, that’s what I used to do too.
CRAWFORD: The attacks at St. Clair and St. Kilda, what do you know about those attacks?
STREET: There was one body that they never found, but that they saw a lot of blood. I’m not sure, I think they got one of the bodies back. And there’s another occasion, when a surfboard rider was knocked off his board. Of course, there when you get on a surfboard with the arms paddling, it could simulate a marine mammal on the surface.
CRAWFORD: It could very well.
STREET: I’ve actually been in South Australia, and I met Rodney Fox there, you’ve probably heard of him. When I first went over there in 1975, the Abalone divers were all making up their shark cages at that stage. I was at Port Lincoln there, and the guy who took me out was nervous too. All the publicity, he hadn't been diving for about four weeks because his mate had been bitten in two by a Great White at the head of the gulf, Streaky Bay near Ceduna, that’s in southern Australia. But they were all making up their shark cages.
CRAWFORD: Roughly when was this?
CRAWFORD: And the Australian Abalone divers, or at least some of them that you had known, were making cages for their commercial abalone harvesting operations?
STREET: Yeah, you’ve probably seen this on 'Abalone Wars' - this recent program on television. Have you seen that?
CRAWFORD: I haven’t seen that. But in some regards, I reckon the Australian Abalone fishery would have had some parallels with the New Zealand Pāua industry? At the time, were there indications back in the 1970’s or at any point since that New Zealand Pāua divers were considering taking similar steps and having shark cages made for them?
STREET: Yeah, the Australian and particularly Green Abalones, they go down to a lot deeper water than what Pāua would do.
CRAWFORD: Down to say what, maybe 60-70 feet?
STREET: Yeah, I think they do have to go down to 100 feet, but I should say they were there on hookah gear, that they’re not free diving as they have to here. Anyway, their Abalone is a species that goes down to a lot deeper water.
CRAWFORD: People make reference to the Australian White Pointers, and one of the things that puzzles them is the attacks on humans, whether they are divers or boarders or swimmers - it's so much more frequent there in Australia than it is here in New Zealand. It's like an order of magnitude more frequent in Australian waters. Why do you figure that is?
STREET: I have never actually thought of that, and on the spot I can’t answer that. It might just be the fact that the White Pointers are more frequent over there.
CRAWFORD: It could be an abundance issue, in which case, that leads to the question, why do you think the White Pointers would be more abundant in Australian waters?
STREET: You could also say that it’s just the fact that Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania - White Pointers are just more abundant than they are here. I just surmise that, anyway.
CRAWFORD: Let's get back to St. Clair, St. Kilda, let's talk about the actual incidences. In fairly close proximity geographically, over a fairly short period of time, there were a series of rather dramatic White Pointer-human interactions around the Otago Peninsula between Aramoana, St. Clair, St. Kilda. Why do you think there would have been such a frequency of incidences specifically around the Otago Peninsula?
STREET: Some people would say that’s the same shark, but I think that would be hard to prove that. Actually, that point has been brought up several times. I remember, something in the newspaper about that, and nothing since. After that they put the shark nets in, you see.
CRAWFORD: Yes. I’ve interviewed some of the guys, commercial operators, that were responsible for working those nets. You put your finger on one of the things - some people say perhaps it was just one shark. And even though it occurred in different years, the possibility that that it was still one shark. Perhaps it went off someplace else, and then came back on a migration or something. You said there’s no evidence to support the idea that it was one individual shark, but at the same time, there’s no evidence against it either. Can you think of any other possible reason, why, in a short period of time, in close proximity, we would have three very rare events? Especially since It hasn’t happened since?
STREET: Well, exactly. Why should it only be the one shark, that’s the other one.